Category: Psychology

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Empty Nest Syndrome

Parental psychology is quite complex and has a number of nuances, which are common for many families and yet are quite challenging in terms of treatment. Empty nest syndrome is one of such complications that a lot of parents face, although this term is not a scientific one. When speaking about empty nest syndrome, or empty nest depression, certain psychological hardships are meant, which are related to the time when children leave parental homes. This paper considers the main aspects of this phenomenon, such as its symptoms, reasons, consequences and ways to cope with it.

Most typically, women are those who are more vulnerable to the so-called empty named syndrome, than men are. This fact is accounted for by several factors, which deal with women’s social and gender roles, as well as their physiology. It can be suggested that women’s attachment to their children is stronger because of being generally close to them since their birth. Besides, sociologically, women identify themselves with their families and children more often than men do. So, when children leave, men still can find relief in their jobs, while for women career is traditionally less significant. Although the situation has been changing recently in Western culture with more women paying increasingly more attention to their career, this seems to be more than a purely sociological aspect or a gender role. It would be reasonable to suggest that women are attached to their children more at the level of instincts as well. Combined with the fact that female psychic is generally more vulnerable and sensitive, it is easy to understand why women suffer from the effects of empty nest depression more often. At the same time, this does not mean that men are devoid of these symptoms, they just experience them in a different way.

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Empty nest syndrome usually affects people when children leave homes either for studies, work or marriage. In case of marriage the signal of the nest left empty is stronger because marriage means forming a new separate family. While in case with children leaving home to study parents still feel comfortable in the role of those who care, it might change when children get married. This means that they should be considered an adult now, and do not need extra support from their parents. Because for many parents their main efforts have been directed at their children for many years, they might feel like the sense of life is lost at this stage. Refocusing is not easy, because strong bias has been formed over the years, so such people may need external help in order to cope with the situation.

Seasonality About the Symptoms

There is some seasonality about the symptoms, for instance depression can be stronger in autumn (Webber, 2010). There is a thin borderline between normal reaction to children leaving home and clinical symptoms. Normally, people are inclined to feeling sad when this happens. One can feel nostalgia, self-pity, and other emotions in this situation. However, they are normal until a person gets fixated on them and stops visioning life in an adequate way. When negative feelings are overwhelming, people can transfer their particular negative feeling to their life in general. In other words, instead of realizing that they have a negative emotion for a particular reason, they start thinking that their whole life is not satisfactory. Under such conditions, they tend to become closed for the world and their friends, and might lose interest in everything except their moody thoughts.

To a large extent, this happens because people are often brought up with a belief that their aim is to be useful, and they attempt to follow this approach for their whole life. When they stop feeling useful, they are at a loss about what is to be done next. Many people are not accustomed to the idea that they should devote their time and efforts to themselves too, not only to other people. Thus, learning new patterns of thinking and behavior is one of the ways to cope with empty nest syndrome. This involves refusing from the old destructive mechanisms in favor of new constructive ones. There are other opinions that researchers express:

While formerly it was believed that the transition to the empty nest represented a source of lowered morale, findings reported by a number of researchers  indicate that the departure of a young-adult offspring from the home has little negative impact on the morale of either parent. Several of these studies report increased satisfaction from the marriage and decreased parental role strain (Wilen, 1979; Cohler & Boxer, 1984, p. 167).

Several Factors Empty Nest Syndrome

Experts name several factors, which make empty nest syndrome even harder for a woman. The truth is that in many cases the time of children leaving parents’ homes coincides with a certain stage of a woman’s life when she feels dissatisfaction with other reasons too.  She is getting older, usually her fortieth or fifties, and is approaching menopause. As it is well-known, menopause has a number of psychological and physiological challenges that a woman has to face and cope with. She experiences the time of change, which can worry and frighten her. Her organism and her appearance change, as well as her role as a woman. When this challenging period coincides with the time that she has to let the children go, it can be double stress for her.


There are some solutions, which are usually offered by experts to bridge the space between children and parents in this situation. In today’s world of communications it is increasingly easier to stay in touch with close people regardless the distances. So, communicating by phone, messengers, and using social networks can be helpful for people not to feel lonely. Of course, such distance communication will not cover for a face-to-face one, because it does not include physical contact, but still this can be a clue to soften the symptoms. At the same time, research shows that children are not always positive about parents’ attempt to be closer to them: “a recent survey by Endsleigh insurance showed that 72 per cent of young people aged between 18 and 25 deliberately choose NOT to be ‘friends’ with their parents on Facebook” ( Webber, 2010).

When parents are influenced by empty nest syndrome, there might be a temptation for them to share their unhappiness with their children. However, specialists advise not to be excessively emotional about the sad feelings with objects of these feelings. They rather suggest addressing them directly to counselors and therapists, or partners, but not to children. They believe that involvement of children in one’s own depression is a bad way about preserving children’s own space. Besides, what is essential is that continuing to involve children closely in their own emotional problems does not help to cope with them at all. On the contrary, this signals dependency, and continues the same pattern of behavior. Moreover, it can cause a feeling of guilt to be born, which is destructive and does not help to break the dependency model between the parent and the child.

New Freedom

A healthy alternative is trying to find a new sense in one’s own life. This can be a surprising and inspiring experience for many middle-aged people, who can suddenly discover that they are free to devote some time to their own wishes and dreams. This new freedom can become nurturing and turn into a resource of mental and physical health for many people. The most difficult thing is taking a firm decision to live a new life and refuse from hidden benefits of dependency. Having new jobs, traveling, finding new relationships or improving the one with the current partner are just some of the many options. Some find it interesting to making home a cozier place.

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“The American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA) surveyed parents whose children have moved out and learned that nearly half of America's empty nesters will reinvest in their nest by renovating their current home, purchasing a new one, or even by splurging on a vacation home” ("Refeathering the Empty Nest," 2002, p. 16). Experts claim that studying positive experiences can help, and research demonstrates that there is a lot to appreciate about the new status: “In 2010, Unite commissioned a poll of 2,000 parents, whose kids had recently left home. They found that the majority of mums and dads felt 10 years younger, were about £600 a month better off, had increased their number of friends, had taken up new hobbies, felt that their relationships had improved” ( Webber, 2010).


Hence, empty nest syndrome is a widely spread reaction of parents to a changing status of their families. When children leave, they can experience depression of different intensity and feel like their sense of life is lost. Women are especially vulnerable because they are more attached to children emotionally and because this time often coincides with menopause. At the same time, research proves that there are effective solutions of the issue. Assistance of psychologists and personal commitment can make changes exciting and may help find new meaning in life.

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